Social Drinking at Home by College Students Under 21, Legal?

Social Drinking at Home by College Students Under 21, Legal?

Jay Perry, Attorney at Law

By Jay Perry

I was recently asked by the parent of a college student whether it was legal for their child (under 21) to drink alcohol in their home.  In Tennessee, the answer is no.  The statute (T.C.A. § 1-3-113) forbids anyone under 21 to “purchase, possess, transport or consume alcoholic beverages, wine, or beer”.  The only listed exceptions are for religious ceremonies and for those over 18 to “transport, possess, sell, or dispense alcoholic beverages, wine, or beer in the course of such person's employment.”

This contrasts with the law in Georgia which contains a specific exception (O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23(c)) allowing for minors to consume alcohol in their parents’ home, if the parents are present and the alcohol was provided by the parents.

Furthermore, the law in Tennessee provides for rather stringent penalties for underage drinking.  The offense is considered a Class A misdemeanor which carries as a maximum sentence up to 11 months and 29 days in the workhouse.  Furthermore, the law holds that upon a conviction for unlawful possession of alcohol the court “shall” send to the DMV an order denying driving privileges.  This loss of driving privileges can be for up to one year. 

Additionally, it is a separate offense if a fake ID is used to purchase alcohol.  If someone between the ages of 18-21 uses a false statement or ID to purchase (or attempt to purchase) alcohol, the proscribed punishment is a fine between $50-$200 and “imprisonment in the county jail or workhouse for not less than five (5) days nor more than thirty (30) days.”  The words of the statute seem to require mandatory jail time for this offense.  A second offense of this law also carries a loss of driving privileges.

With many college students home for the holidays and returning to school soon, it is important that they understand the possible consequences for behavior so common that it has become a rite of passage.  Unfortunately, it can have severe legal consequences and result in students caught in the criminal justice system. 

(Jay Perry is a Chattanooga lawyer who writes on legal issues concerning college students and young adults for Tennessee Criminal Law Review.  This is Jay's first post and we look forward to his contributions. You may contact Mr. Perry directly through the links above.)

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